Chennai/New Delhi: India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, a key architect of the country’s major cross-border military actions in recent times, was killed today along with his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 other military personnel as an Indian Air Force helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor and burst into flames.
A pilot of the ill-fated helicopter MI-17V5 Group Captain Varun Singh was the lone survivor in the crash, with critical injuries for which he has been hospitalised.
The Russia-made twin-engine helicopter, considered very safe, crashed at around 12.20 pm about 5 minutes from the landing site which was just 5-10 kms away in Wellington, according to local officials.
It had taken off from Sulur at around 11.47 am from Sulur and crashed after apparently hitting the trees in the Coonoor Valley.
The helicopter broke into pieces and the wreckage was scattered on a hillside.
The 63-year-old Gen Rawat was heading for Wellington to deliver a lecture.
The helicopter burst into flames after crash-landing, making it clear that survival of the travellers would be a miracle.
Even before the government officials could reach the accident spot, locals rushed to carry out the rescue operations, making attempts to douse the blaze, which raged for more than an hour as the fuel tank was full.
Local Army units also joined the rescue operation but the 63-year-old Gen Rawat, his wife and 11 others could not be saved.
Some of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
It was only at around 6 pm that the IAF confirmed the death of CDS, his wife and 11 others.
“Around noon today, an IAF Mi 17 V5 helicopter with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor, TN,” the IAF tweeted.
“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” it added in another tweet.
“Gp Capt Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington,” said another tweet by the IAF.
Gen Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiri Hills) to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course today, the IAF spokesman said.
The CDS was to give a lecture at around 2:45 pm in Wellington today.
An Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, the Indian Air Force said.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and several other leaders expressed condolences over Rawat’s demise.
Condoling the demise of CDS General Bipin Rawat, PM Narendra Modi tweeted, “I am deeply anguished by the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in which we have lost Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and other personnel of the Armed Forces. They served India with utmost diligence. My thoughts are with the bereaved families.”
“Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply. Om Shanti,” he said.
“As India’s first CDS, Gen Rawat worked on diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defence reforms. He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service,” he added.